Wealthy donors boost Perriello's fundraising to head of pack in Va. governor's race

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrat Tom Perriello, an insurgent candidate in Virginia's closely watched race for governor, outraised his opponents last quarter with big help from hedge-fund billionaire George Soros and the global activist group Avaaz.

Campaign finance reports filed Monday show Perriello raised $2.2 million since he got in the race in January, with about half coming from four donors who gave six-figure donations. His biggest donor is Sonjia Smith, a philanthropist from Perriello's hometown of Charlottesville who gave $500,000. Soros and his son, Alexander, gave a combined $375,000 while Avaaz gave $230,000. Perriello helped found the nonprofit, which is active in various progressive causes around the world and is not required to disclose its donors.

The big money cuts against the populist rhetoric Perriello has used on the campaign trail, where he derides the outsized influence of wealthy donors.

"This is another example of Tom Perriello saying one thing to voters but doing the opposite for the sake of political convenience," the Republican Governors Association said in a statement.

Campaign spokesman Ian Sams said Perriello remains committed to fixing a "corrupt" campaign finance system.

"Tom is drawing support by people across the progressive movement who have seen up close his commitment to justice issues and progressive advocacy for decades, not relying on transactional politics to fill his campaign coffers," Sams said.

Virginia has virtually no limits on political giving and is one of only two states electing governors this year. The contest is being watched closely as a possible early referendum on President Donald Trump and is likely to draw heaps of out-of-state money as the race progresses.

Observers are keenly watching the Democratic primary between Perriello and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam as a potential signal for where the party at large is headed in the Trump era. Northam has the party establishment's backing while Perriello, a former congressman who was recently endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has sought to energize the party's activists and broaden the typical primary voting pool.

Northam, who could not raise money during the 45-day legislative session earlier this year, reported raising $1.5 million last quarter, and closed the quarter with more than $3.1 million in cash. His biggest donors last quarter were outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe's political action committee and venture capitalist Michael Bills, who is the husband of Perriello's biggest donor.

About 90 percent of Northam's money last quarter was from in-state, while Perriello raised more than half of his money from out of state, according to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project. Northam also had more than double Perriello's number of small-dollar donors who gave $100 or less.

Ed Gillespie, a former advisor to President George W. Bush and lobbyist, led the Republican gubernatorial field last quarter with $1.9 million. That includes $25,000 each from Bush and former White House aide Karl Rove. Gillespie, who like Northam has his party establishment's support, reported about $3 million in cash on hand at the end of the quarter.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, an outspoken Trump supporter, raised $300,000 and state Sen. Frank Wagner raised $60,000.

Like Perriello, Stewart is running an insurgent campaign that has focused heated criticism on Dominion Resources, an energy giant with unmatched political sway in Virginia that is consistently the biggest corporate giver in state politics.

Dominion CEO Tom Farrell gave $5,000 to both Northam and Gillespie last quarter.

The primary for both parties is June 13.

Monday was also the reporting deadline for state House candidates. Democrats are hopeful that anti-Trump sentiment will help them retake control of the House this year, and many of the biggest money raisers last quarter were new candidates looking to defeat Republican incumbents.

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